By Mike Walsh, Board President, Battery Gadsden Cultural Center for The Island Eye News
In 1997 the late Make Macmurphy, founder of what is now Battery Gadsden Cultural Center, conceived the idea of an oral history of Sullivan’s Island. With the assistance of Jeri England and Susannah Smith Miles, long time islanders were videotaped reminiscing about island history, culture and daily life. Those many hours of video were edited, assembled and woven together with Miles’ script to create The Island Remembered, a 45-minute production in VHS format. In many an island home today can still be found a copy of that tape tucked away on a shelf, even though the owner may no longer have a VHS machine on which to play it.
After Macmurphy’s death and the resultant dormancy of the Cultural Center, the idea of recording oral histories on Sullivan’s Island went no further for many years. However, with the rebirth of Battery Gadsden Cultural Center in 2014 the idea soon resurfaced. But the field of oral history had moved on. There were national organizations, standards and “best practices” in oral history.
Extensive textbooks had been written on “how to do” oral history. Taking all of this into consideration, a decision was made to give oral history another try with all the modern standards. Most oral history collections to be found are done as purely audio projects, but based partially on the popularity of Macmurphy’s original videotape, Battery Gadsden decided to try their project in video format. Not only would that allow the viewer the obvious advantage of seeing the speaker, but it would also allow the inclusion of photos and other mementos that could be edited into the file.
The filming is just the first step though. The interview then must be transcribed, edited, abstracted and time indexed so that future authors, researchers and others interested in island history can more easily find various topics. Then comes the ultimate question – where will all this be stored so it can be accessed? The downside of video projects is the file size. It takes a lot of memory to store video versus audio. Fortunately at this point BGCC was introduced to the Low Country Digital Library, housed in the Addlestone Library on the College of Charleston campus. This was already home to many oral history collections, though none of them in video format. Working with Tyler Mobley and Leah Worthington at the digital library, Battery Gadsden found an excellent partner willing to take on their first video collection.
Seven interviews were videoed and processed. Then on December 14th, 2018, the good news arrived. The Sullivan’s Island Oral History Collection was live. Anyone can now enjoy seeing and hearing the memories of individuals with long ties to the island on their computer. Since then an eighth interview has been added, a ninth is being edited and many more are anticipated. So far, the collection includes conversations with people such as Roy Williams, Father Lawrence McInerny and Bryan Rowell. If you would like to explore the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center oral history project collection, visit lcdl.library.cofc.edu/content/ sullivan%E2%80%99s-islandoral-history-collection.
If you or someone you know has “a story to tell” about their or their family’s connection to Sullivan’s Island, put them in touch with Battery Gadsden Cultural Center, firstname.lastname@example.org.